'The King's Speech' raises stuttering awareness

February 27, 2011 7:24:26 AM PST
Every year, a disability-related film or character gets nominated for an Academy Award.

One of the most talked about nominees this year is "The King's Speech," a film that has become a "mouth piece" for 3 million Americans with a stuttering disability.

"The King's Speech" is based on the true story of King George VI and his relationship with his speech therapist Lionel Lowe who helped him find his voice.

"Stuttering can be defined in several different ways," said speech pathologist Kristin Chmela.

Chmela specializes in fluency disorders, and founded the Chmela Fluency Center in Long Grove, Ill.

"If a person stutters, they might have part-word repetitions -- k-k-k-k-kind of like that -- or prolongations like -- llllllike -- that or blocks in speech where they go to say something like that nothing comes out or they have difficulty beginning sound," Chmela said.

"Stuttering also involves the attitudes and feeling within, and many times, stuttering involves not only those behaviors we just talked about but the reactions to those behaviors," she said.

She says Colin Firth, who plays King George VI in the film, gave an accurate portrayal of a stutterer.

"I think he did a tremendous job, not only being able to block or try to initiate sound with great effort but also I think he did a great job with the body language sometimes looking down or looking away," Chmela said.

This film hit close to home for Bill Smith.

"I mean, it was just extremely moving and I just felt his embarrassment. I mean, you can see I'm fluent when I'm talking about something like the weather," Smith said.

Art Stuss broke down during the film.

"I liked the way that Lionel Lowe actually brought out more of the emotional parts of stuttering, you know, like fear," Stuss said.

People who stutter hope this film promotes positive changes.

"I think people are talking about stuttering at the dinner table and when they're out with friends," Chmela said. "I think people are learning more about stuttering now because it's been in the media quite a bit since the movie came out."

"I think that it's greatest impact will be the broader awareness of speech problems," Stuss said. "Actually, I gave a speech in Toastmaster's on 'The King' Speech' and one of the people in Toastmaster indicated that they never met a person who stuttered before."

When asked if "The King's Speech" will change things for stutterers, Melanie Kvistad said: "I hope that this will."

As for the Academy Awards, it airs at 7 p.m. Sunday right on ABC7.

For more information about stuttering, visit these websites:

National Stuttering Association

The Stuttering Foundation